Samuel P. Sears' response to communist paranoia leads
to Law Day
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a craze swept the nation
years before rock n' roll threatened to corrupt impressionable
young minds: Communism was jeopardizing everything America stood
for, and vigilance was critical.
No one was above suspicion: federal employees, entertainers and
even teachers were required to take loyalty oaths. In 1950, the
American Bar Association appointed a committee to investigate
communist strategies, and in 1951, a committee of the Massachusetts
Legislature proposed that lawyers take a loyalty oath.
Specifically, lawyers would have to "solemnly swear" that they did
not belong to any organization seeking the overthrow of the state
or federal government. Refusing to do so would prevent new members
from being admitted to the bar; current members would be
The ABA and the Boston Bar Association both assigned committees to
investigate the communist threat, and both endorsed the proposed
oath in its entirety.
The Massachusetts Bar Association's Executive Committee opposed
it, however. MBA President Samuel P. Sears (1950-53) felt the best
way to thwart the spread of communism was through education and
appreciation for the court system.
"Amidst the rampant fingerpointing and the rhymeless, unreasonable
harassment of many innocent people, Sears attempted to find a
grassroots solution to what was, in the hearts and minds of
Americans of the fifties, a real and frightening problem," Robert
J. Brink wrote in Fiat Justitia, A History of the Massachusetts
Bar Association 1910-1985.
The MBA sponsored The Good Citizenship Program in March 1952, with
the goal of having a prominent lawyer share "the priceless heritage
that is theirs in this country's judicial system." with every high
school in Massachusetts.
"One of the greatest bulwarks in our fight against Communism is
our free legal institutions, because if Communism ever came here,
we'd have no legal system. We'd be slaves," Sears said. "I thought
high school students should know this - they're the ones who'll run
things within a few years. And I thought they should also know --
hear from the lips of lawyers, men who are in our courts daily --
that the fight for our kind of system did not come easy."
The Good Citizenship Program lasted for just one year, but Sears'
successor, Robert W. Bodfish, reintroduced it as the Massachusetts
Heritage Program in 1954. It was a wild success. More than 100
lawyers spoke to an estimated 50,000 high school students, media
coverage was extensive and Gov. Christian A. Herter proclaimed
December 1954 as Massachusetts Heritage Month.
The ABA, which presented the MBA its Award of Merit in recognition
of the program's "outstanding and constructive work," ran with the
idea in 1958, designating May 1 as Law Day, a national program that
Centennial Timeline: 1950s
1950: Continued fears about widespread
Communism in the country and in the legal profession spurs American
Bar Association president Cody Fowler to establish a seven-man
committee to investigate Communist tactics, strategies and
March 1952: MBA President Samuel P. Sears,
believing part of the country's paranoia stems from ignorance about
the inner workings of the laws and the courts, institutes the Good
Citizenship Program, wherein prominent lawyers visit and address
local high schools.
1953: Sears is selected as the Army's chief
counsel at the Army-McCarthy hearings; he resignS after his
pro-McCarthy comments were made public. He is replaced by MBA
member Joseph Welch, who famously commented, "Have you no decency,
sir?" and precipitated McCarthy's downfall.
1954: The continued response to Sears' idea to
preserve democracy through education is overwhelming. More than 100
lawyers volunteered to speak to high school students, and it was
estimated that more than 50,000 students would hear their speeches
that year. Public libraries created displays of the state's history
and heritage, and prominent local newspapers covered the events.
December 1954 was declared Massachusetts Heritage Month.
1958: The culmination of education efforts is the
declaration of Law Day, designated as May 1 by President Dwight D.
Eisenhower, the first national, public observance of its kind -
though most celebrations focused on the differences between
democracy and Communism than the celebration of the nation's laws
Late 1950s: As the association's membership and
involvement grows, an organizational framework recognizable to its
current membership begins to emerge, including the creation of the
position director of public relations, the creation of the
newsletter and a statewide continuing education program.
1959: MBA Acting President Harold Horvitz
establishes the Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, reflecting
society's increased focus of the problem of youths on the streets.
The committee also reflects the MBA's first forays into matters
only tangentially related to the practice of law.
1960: After 45 years at the helm of the
Massachusetts Law Quarterly (now the Massachusetts Law
Review), MBA Secretary Frank Grinnell accepts editor emeritus
status, stepping aside for Edward Hennessey to take the position of
editor-in-chief. Hennessey institutes a series of changes to the
editorial content of the Quarterly, allowing MBA members to
contribute to the scholarly discussions not just as readers and
editors, but as active, original contributors.
-Compiled by Cassidy Norton Murphy
MBA Did You Know?
- In the 1960s, the MBA became a force on the
frontlines defining and defending the boundaries of the
legal profession. It helped form the Joint Committee of the Press
and Bar, which resolved the conflict between the media's right to
freedom of the press under the First Amendment, and lawyers' claims
to their clients' right to a fair trial under the Sixth
- For example, in 1991, a state sales tax on professional
and business services went into effect. This threatened
both the stability of law firms and lawyers in small practice, as
well as the ability of poorer clients to afford the total cost. A
little more than 48 hours later, the Legislature repealed the tax.
This represented a major legislative victory for the MBA, whose
members had campaigned against the sales tax for two years.
- In the 1940s, MBA President Mayo A. Shattuck recognized
that to adequately represent the views of the Massachusetts
bar, the MBA needed to include younger lawyers as well. In
1948, the MBA sponsored the Massachusetts Junior Bar Group - and in
1958, attendees of the annual meeting voted to guarantee at least
one seat on each major MBA committee and board to a member of the
- The Junior Bar Group was expanded to become the Young
Lawyers Section in December 1963 and was relaunched as the
Young Lawyers Division in late 2006 at the direction of MBA Past
President Mark Mason.